Supreme Court won't hear students' challenge to Va. ban on alcohol ads

VIRGINIA — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a case challenging Virginia’s ban on alcohol-related advertising in college newspapers.

The case now returns to the district court, which originally found the ban unconstitutional on its face. Two student papers, the University of Virginia’s Cavalier Daily and Virginia Tech’s Collegiate Times, filed a lawsuit challenging the ban in June 2006.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the ban in April, finding it did not violate the First Amendment on its face.

“The response from the Supreme Court is unfortunate,” said Peter Velz, editor in chief of The Collegiate Times.

Velz added it would have been interesting if the Supreme Court had taken the case, because Justice Samuel Alito ruled on a similar ban in Pennsylvania before joining the Court.

Velz said the problem with the ban is that the rationale behind it is to curb underage drinking, but the majority of the readership of the Times is over 21.

“Underage drinking isn’t a problem for that subset of readers,” he said.

Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said the case now goes to trial in the district court on two unresolved issues: Whether the ban is unconstitutional in the way it is enforced on the two papers, and whether the ban violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause because it targets only college newspapers. The first could invalidate the ban only for the two plaintiffs. The other could strike down the ban entirely.

LoMonte said the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case may have been different if these types of bans were popping up all over the country rather than just in a small handful of states.

“It’s not terribly surprising,” he said.

Velz said the ban is something the paper has to deal with on a regular basis because it limits advertising, which affects the paper financially.

The case is Educational Media Co. at Virginia Tech, Inc. v. Swecker.